By Marc Hinds
“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?” (Luke 15:4).
Anytime I want to, I can go home. I haven’t lived in the house I grew up in since getting married almost twenty years ago, but my parents still live there. My old room has been converted to an office, but there is a guest bed is in my brother’s old room that works just fine for me when I visit.
While I lived there on a daily basis, my coming and going might not generate a lot of excitement. “Oh, you’re home from school?” they might say pleasantly. However, if I were to open the front door now, and suddenly step into the living room, I would receive an enthusiastic greeting. “You’re home!” Coming home after being gone awhile is always exciting.
In Luke 15, Jesus tells a set of three parables about lost items. These are the parables of the lost sheep (vv. 4–7), the lost coin (vv. 8–10) and the lost son (vv. 11–32). The lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son all share being lost. In a similar way, the ninety-nine sheep, the nine coins and the older brother all share a similar relationship. They all seem to be safe. Or were they? The older brother may not have been as safe as it may seem. He got angry and refused to join in the celebration of his brother’s return (v. 28).
Have you ever known someone who struggled with sin in his or her life and then publicly acknowledged it before the congregation? Prayer is offered, the “amen” is said and suddenly there is a “party” at the front of the auditorium where swarms of people are rejoicing with this person who has “come back to the fold.”
As a faithful Christian, you might watch this transpire and be tempted to feel like it is unfair. After all, it’s been years since you’ve disobeyed a command of God (cf. v. 29) and yet, no one has made over you in such an obvious display of congratulatory celebration. As a result, you might even be a bit resentful and “refuse” to join in (cf. v. 28).
Yet all of us have been lost. At one time in our lives, all of us were the one lost sheep or the one lost coin or the one lost son. We were all saved by God’s grace. Since that time, we have been able to enjoy everything that our Heavenly Father offers, including a close relationship with him now and all the blessings that are found in his Son (Eph 1:3). Conversely, the lost son with his “prodigal living” found out that a godless lifestyle only brings heartache (v. 13–16).
Jesus is telling us in these parables that the soul who comes back home doesn’t deserve our scorn, but our sympathy. They’ve been missing out on what we’ve had all this time. While they were lost, you’ve been safe and sound at home. What could possibly be better than that?
We have a saying. “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” It’s normal for us to get excited about greeting someone that we haven’t seen for a long time. But in these parables, it’s something far more significant. The one sheep, one coin and one son were lost! They were precious and greatly valued and, as a result, desperately needed to be found. No wonder “there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (v. 7). When one sinner repents, the angels rejoice, Jesus says (v. 10). The key is to realize we all need repentance (v. 2).
This third parable shows that we can think that we don’t need to repent of anything and yet be blind to our own self-righteousness and arrogance. It’s one thing to lament the spiritual death of someone else and it’s quite another to realize that we’re in the same sad state. I am a sinner who left the fold of the Father and was allowed to come back home. I have no right to resent the return of my brother and sister.
Yet sometimes we do, to our own detriment. We feel unappreciated, never realizing that we have taken God’s blessings for granted.
I’m so glad that I can always go back to my physical home anytime I want. One day that won’t be possible. My parents won’t live forever. Someday their house will be occupied by someone else.
In sharp contrast our heavenly Father will never cease to long for his children to come home, to develop a lifelong relationship with Him while on earth and then spend eternity with Him forever.
That means I want to go home and I want to stay home. When I do, there will be much rejoicing. When others do, may I rejoice with them and the angels in heaven.
Marc Hinds preaches for the Parkway church of Christ, Corpus Christi, Texas. This article originally published in PRESSING ON MAGAZINE.